August Recess 2019: A look back at the House’s legislative victories that benefit working people
Today, Congress ended its legislative work for the summer. Members return to their districts after a busy week dominated by discussion of the Mueller report. While much of the focus of the 116th Congress has been on investigations of the Trump administration, the House of Representatives has passed several bills that would benefit working people. Just last week, the House passed the Raise the Wage Act which would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour in 2025. This critical legislation would increase wages for over 33 million U.S. workers and lift 1.3 million people out of poverty–nearly half of them children. Workers in every congressional district in the country would benefit from this critical legislation. EPI recently released a map that shows the benefits of raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2025 by congressional district.
In March, the House passed the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and guarantee that women can challenge pay discrimination and hold their employers accountable. Since the passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, millions of women have joined the workforce. However, more than five decades later, women are still earning less than their male counterparts. On average in 2018, women were paid 22.6 percent less than men, after controlling for race and ethnicity, education, age, and location. This gap is even larger for women of color, with black and Hispanic women being paid 34.9 and 34.3 percent less per hour than white men, respectively—even after controlling for education, age, and location. The Paycheck Fairness Act is crucial legislation in reducing these gender pay gaps and guaranteeing women receive equal pay for equal work.
In May, the House passed the Equality Act, which prohibits discrimination in housing, the workplace, and other settings on the basis of sex, gender identity and sexual orientation. While many states have enacted laws to protect LGBTQ Americans against discrimination regarding sexual orientation and gender identity, there is no federal law that would provide the same protections. There is, however, a glaring need: nearly two-thirds of LGBTQ Americans have experienced discrimination in their personal lives. The Equality Act amends the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Fair Housing Act, the Equal Credit Opportunity, and the Jury Selection and Service Act to explicitly include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected characteristics. The Equality Act is a pivotal step toward ensuring equality for all Americans.
In addition to the bills the House has already passed this session, a number of others that have been introduced that would restore and strengthen workers’ rights.
- Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act: Unions are critical for increasing wages, improving working conditions, and combating income inequality in America. However, the erosion of labor laws and attacks on unions by special-interest groups have weakened union membership to just 10.7 percent in 2018. The result has been stagnant wages for working people, unsafe workplaces, and rising inequality. The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, introduced by Rep. Bobby Scott (D–Va.) and Senator Patty Murray (D–Wash.), would strengthen the federal laws that protect workers’ right to organize a union and collectively bargain over wages, benefits, and better working conditions.
- Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act: Under current federal law, public service workers do not have the freedom to join in union and collectively bargain over wages or working conditions. The Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, introduced by Rep. Matt Cartwright (D–Penn.) and Sen. Mazie Hirono (D–Hawaii), would require states to provide public-service workers the freedom to join in union and collectively bargain. Ultimately, the bill would provide 17.3 million public employees a national standard of bargaining rights.
- Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal (FAIR) Act and the Restoring Justice for Workers Act: According to a recent report by EPI and the Center on Popular Democracy, more than 80 percent of workplaces will subject their workers to mandatory arbitration with class and collective action waivers by 2024. The FAIR Act, introduced by Rep. Hank Johnson (D–Ga.) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D–Conn.), would eliminate forced arbitration in employment, consumer, and civil rights cases. The Restoring Justice for Workers Act, introduced by Reps. Jerrod Nadler (D–N.Y.) and Bobby Scott (D–Va.) and Senator Patty Murray (D–Wash.), would ban mandatory arbitration and class and collective action waivers in labor and employment matters.
- Restoring Overtime Pay Act: In June, Reps. Mark Takano (D–Calif.) and Bobby Scott (D–Va.) and Sherrod Brown (D–Ohio) and Patty Murray (D–Wash.) introduced the Restoring Overtime Pay Act, which strengthens overtime protections by attaching the salary level to the 40th percentile of earnings of full-time salaried workers in the lowest wage census region. The bill also requires automatic updates every three years to ensure the level remains in line with the changes in our economy. If Congress were to enact the bill in 2019, the overtime salary level would increase from $23,660 per year to roughly $51,000 per year, making roughly 4.6 million workers newly eligible for overtime pay.
- Wage Theft Prevention and Wage Recovery Act: Wage theft—the of failure of employers to pay workers money they are legally entitled to—is a widespread and deep-rooted problem that directly harms millions of U.S. workers each year. According to a recent study by EPI, employers steal over $15 billion from American workers’ paychecks each year through minimum wage violations alone. This month, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D–Conn.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D–Wash.) introduced the Wage Theft Prevention and Wage Recovery Act, which would combat wage theft by strengthening current federal law and empowering employees to recover their lost wages. If enacted, the bill would ensure that workers across America receive a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work and empower them to recover the lost wages they deserve.
The House has taken action on key workers’ rights measures. Chief among these is the Raise the Wage Act. When the Senate returns from recess, Majority Leader McConnell should allow votes on this critical bill. If he does not, he is preventing a raise for millions of U.S. workers. Further, the House should prioritize passage of the PRO Act, the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, and the FAIR Act. Each of these measures would help unrig a system that is tilted toward corporate interests and help to make our economy more just.